When you’ve been reporting on a subject for a long time, you can feel when the winds are beginning to shift, and in 2018 it’s started to feel like game studios are actually having serious conversations about crunch. This week alone we have significant examples from two of the biggest publishers around.
Crunch, or extended, usually unpaid overtime, has been an epidemic in the video game industry since the video game industry started. Although it’s often thought of as a final burst period in the last weeks of a game’s development, that’s misleading. Game developers can crunch for all sorts of milestones and all sorts of reasons. Crunch can happen any time during a project, not just at the end.
Conversations surrounding crunch culture at Rockstar Games over the past few days have led other big game studios to speak out about the practice, and there are two new reports worth reading.
Yesterday, the website Gamesindustry.biz published a guest editorial from Matt Webster, the GM of Criterion (Need For Speed, Burnout). It condemns crunch and details ways in which he says his studio has worked to avoid it. “There’s a mistake somewhere in the concept of ‘passion’ equalling time spent in the office,” he wrote. “You can come into work and put in eight ‘passionate’ hours or 12 ‘unpassionate’ hours. Time does not equal passion.”
This morning, a new Gamasutra interview with the makers of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey also talks crunch, which the developers at Ubisoft’s Quebec studio say they’ve been trying to avoid. “I can tell you hand on heart that [Assassin’s Creed Odyssey] hasn’t required a massive crunch, like maybe some of the triple-As from five or ten years ago,” said the studio’s managing director, Patrick Klaus. “We can still always do better, but we have managed pretty well to succeed in delivering a game of huge magnitude which is hitting a good quality [level], while making sure that our teams are not burnt out and disgusted with working in games.”
The conversation around crunch has changed in significant ways over the past few years, and it’s no longer become a subject reserved for GDC bars and glorified tales from the trenches. Now, finally, it seems like top people at game studios are talking about crunch in a way that might lead to serious change. Maybe there’s hope for video games after all?